William James and Michael Holden / Reuters & Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor / The Guardian – 2013-12-05 01:15:38
British News Staff May Face Terrorism Charges
William James and Michael Holden / Reuters
LONDON (December 3 2013) — British police are examining whether Guardian newspaper staff should be investigated for terrorism offenses over their handling of data leaked by Edward Snowden, Britain’s senior counter-terrorism officer said on Tuesday.
The disclosure came after Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, summoned to give evidence at a parliamentary inquiry, was accused by lawmakers of helping terrorists by making top secret information public and sharing it with other news organizations.
The Guardian was among several newspapers which published leaks from US spy agency contractor Snowden about mass surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s eavesdropping agency GCHQ.
Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, who heads London’s Specialist Operations unit, told lawmakers the police were looking to see whether any offenses had been committed, following the brief detention in August of a man carrying data on behalf of a Guardian journalist.
Security officials have said Snowden’s data included details of British spies and its disclosure would put lives at risk. Rusbridger told the committee his paper had withheld that information from publication.
“It appears possible once we look at the material that some people may have committed offenses,” Dick said. “We need to establish whether they have or they haven’t.”
David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald who brought the Snowden leaks to world attention, was questioned under anti-terrorism law when he landed at London’s Heathrow Airport en route from Berlin to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and computer material he was carrying was seized.
Lawmakers put it to Rusbridger that he had committed an offence under Section 58A of the Terrorism Act which says it is a crime to publish or communicate any information about members of the armed forces or intelligence services.
“It isn’t only about what you’ve published, it’s about what you’ve communicated. That is what amounts, or can amount, to a criminal offence,” said committee member Michael Ellis.
Asked later by Ellis whether detectives were considering Section 58A offenses, Dick said: “Yes, indeed we are looking at that.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the Guardian published a letter of support from Carl Bernstein, the US journalist who helped expose the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.
Bernstein, 69, said Rusbridger’s appearance before the committee was a “dangerously pernicious” attempt by British authorities to shift the focus of the surveillance debate from excessive government secrecy to the conduct of the press.
During his testimony, Rusbridger defended his decision to publish the leaks and said the paper had used less than one percent of the information and kept the rest stored securely.
“We have published I think 26 documents so far out of the 58,000 we’ve seen, or 58,000 plus. So we have made very selective judgments about what to print,” he said. “We have published no names and we have lost control of no names.”
Guardian articles over the last six months have shown that the United States and some of its allies, including Britain, were monitoring phone, email and social media communications on a previously unimagined scale.
The revelations provoked diplomatic rows and stirred an international debate on civil liberties. Britain’s security chiefs said the leaks were a boon to the country’s enemies who were “rubbing their hands with glee”.
Snowden, who is believed to have downloaded between 50,000 and 200,000 classified NSA and British government documents, is living in Russia under temporary asylum. He has been charged in the United States under the Espionage Act.
Countering criticism by lawmakers, Rusbridger said more emphasis was being given to the Guardian‘s decision to publish the leaks than to the fact they had been so easily obtained in the first place.
“We were told that 850,000 people … had access to the information that a 29-year-old in Hawaii who wasn’t even employed by the American government had access,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Freya Berry and Silvia Antonioli; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
(c) Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved.
MPs’ Questions to Alan Rusbridger:
‘Do You Love this Country?’
LONDON (December 3, 2013) — Transcript:
Committee chair, Keith Vaz: Some of the criticisms against you and the Guardian have been very, very personal. You and I were both born outside this country, but I love this country. Do you love this country?
Alan Rusbridger: We live in a democracy and most of the people working on this story are British people who have families in this country, who love this country. I’m slightly surprised to be asked the question but, yes, we are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can, in this country, discuss and report these things.
Vaz: So the reason why you’ve done this has not been to damage the country, it is to help the country understand what is going on as far as surveillance is concerned?
Rusbridger: I think there are countries, and they’re not generally democracies, where the press are not free to write about these things, and where the security services do tell editors what to write, and where politicians do censor newspapers.
That’s not the country that we live in, in Britain, that’s not the country that America is and it’s one of the things I love about this country — is that we have that freedom to write, and report, and to think and we have some privacy, and those are the concerns which need to be balanced against national security, which no one is underestimating, and I can speak for the entire Guardian staff who live in this country that they want to be secure too.
Vaz: Thank you so much, that’s very clear.
Do you accept you have broken the law?
Conservative MP Michael Ellis: Mr. Rusbridger, you authorised files stolen by [National Security Agency contractor Edward] Snowden which contained the names of intelligence staff to be communicated elsewhere. Yes or no?
Rusbridger: Well I think I’ve already dealt with that.
Ellis: Well if you could just answer the question.
Rusbridger: I think it’s been known for six months that these documents contained names and that I shared them with the New York Times.
Ellis: Do you accept that that is a criminal offence under section 58A of the Terrorism Act, 2000?
Rusbridger: You may be a lawyer, Mr. Ellis, I’m not.
Ellis: Now 58,000 documents were sent or communicated by you — as editor-in-chief of the Guardian you caused them to be communicated, and they contained a wealth of information. It was effectively an IT-sharing platform between the United States and the United Kingdom intelligence services wasn’t it?
Rusbridger: I’ll leave you to express those words.
Ellis: So you decline to answer that. Very well. But that was information which contained a wealth of data, protected data, that was both secret and even top secret under the protective classifications of this country.
Rusbridger: They were secret documents.
Ellis: Secret and top-secret documents. And do you accept that the information contained personal information that could lead to the identity even of the sexual orientation of persons working within GCHQ?
Rusbridger: The sexual orientation thing is completely new to me. If you could explain how we’ve done that then I’d be most interested.
Ellis: In part, from your own newspaper on 2 August, which is still available online, because you refer to the fact that GCHQ has its own Pride group for staff and I suggest to you that the data contained within the 58,000 documents also contained data that allowed your newspaper to report that information. It is therefore information now that is not any longer protected under the laws and that jeopardises those individuals, does it not?
Rusbridger: You’ve completely lost me Mr. Ellis. There are gay members of GCHQ, is that a surprise?
Ellis: It’s not amusing Mr. Rusbridger. They shouldn’t be outed by you and your newspaper.
[Brief inaudible exchange in which both men are talking]
Rusbridger: The notion of the existence of a Pride group within GCHQ, actually if you go to the Stonewall website you can find the same information there. I fail to see how that outs a single member of GCHQ.
Ellis: You said it was news to you, so you know about the Stonewall website, so it’s not news to you. It was in your newspaper. What about the fact that GCHQ organised trips to Disneyland in Paris, that’s also been printed in your newspaper, does that mean if you knew that, information including the family details of members of GCHQ is also within the 58,000 documents — the security of which you have seriously jeopardised?
Rusbridger: Again, your references are lost to me. The fact that there was a family outing from GCHQ to Disneyland … [CUT OFF]
What would you have done with the enigma code?
Ellis: Do you accept that these files contained methods of trapping cyber criminals, like paedophiles and hackers?
Rusbridger: The only story that has been identified that resembles that description is the story about Tor. I’d welcome the opportunity to talk about that.
Ellis: I would rather you didn’t. I don’t see any need to further publicise that information. What about the disclosure of safe houses and other safe locations?
Rusbridger: Could I refer to Tor? The point about Tor is that anybody remotely interested in this would have learned nothing from the Guardian that is not available on the Tor website, so let’s get real about this. There is nothing that the Guardian has published that is endangering people in the way you talk about.
Ellis: It isn’t only about what you have published, it’s about what you have communicated. That is what amounts, or can amount to a criminal offence. You have caused the communication of secret documents classified as secret and top secret in this country for a reason. Not to hide them from the Guardian but to hide them from people out to harm us. If you had known about the enigma code would you have transmitted that to the Nazis?
Rusbridger: That is a well-worn red herring if you don’t mind me saying so. I think that most journalists can make a distinction between the kind of thing that you’re talking about — the enigma code or the travel of troop ships.This is very well-worn material that has been dealt with by the supreme court and that you lean when you do your NCTJ [journalism training] course. So I can make those distinctions, Mr. Ellis, thank you.
Is it safe to send secret files via Fedex?
Mark Reckless: You wrote in a letter on 7 November to [the Conservative MP] Julian Smith that the Guardian hadn’t published the names or identifying information for staff of our intelligence agencies, and you added that you had not used or lost control of that information. Can I clarify from your response earlier … Did you say that you had communicated that information to the New York Times?
Rusbridger: We gave the material to the New York Times at roughly the same time that we told the cabinet secretary what we were doing and giving the cabinet secretary the name of the [nyt] editor and how to contact her.
Reckless: And you referred earlier to material given to the Washington Post not being under your control. Did the material given to the New York Times remain under your control?
Rusbridger: The material was given to the Washington Post by Edward Snowden himself, to a journalist called Barton Gellman. The material we have shared is in the joint control of myself and the editor of the New York Times.
Reckless:When you say you haven’t lost control of the data at any time, does that include the periods when the data was with Fedex, which I understand you’ve admitted using to transfer information?
Rusbridger: No data was lost, we lost control of no data. No names have leaked from the Guardian.
Reckless: I wouldn’t refer to a period that a package is with Fedex as being under my control. Is that what you are saying?
Rusbridger: I’m saying that we have not lost control of it. The reporting of Fedex was grossly exaggerated. It was reported as tens of thousands of documents, including MI5 and MI6 spies. That was not the case. It was a small amount of material relating to one story, that was encrypted to military grade, was sent safely, arrived safely and didn’t involve any loss of control….
Reckless: I think you have committed a criminal offence in your response. Do you think that it would not be in the public interest for the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] to prosecute or should it be dealt with by the authorities in the normal way?
Rusbridger: I think it depends on your view of a free press. In America, the attorney general has said within the last two weeks that, from what he had seen so far, he had no intention of prosecuting [the journalist who broke the story] Glenn Greenwald. He’s gone further. He said that under his watch he will not prosecute any journalist doing their duty.
In New York this month, I debated with the former general counsel of the NSA, Stuart Baker. He distinguishes between what Snowden did and journalists do. He says once information is in the hands of journalists, it is protected material. In my reading of the DPP [director of public prosecutions] and the guidelines he laid down during the Leveson process, is that public interest will weigh very carefully and very highly in any deliberations he takes.